With the erratic tax dodger Donald Trump in the White House, taking a closer look at candidates for office closer to home seems like a good idea. Are they prepared? What have they actually done? Will they fight for the people, not themselves?
Even with these questions in mind, I wasn’t ready for what I learned about a handful of Democrats running for Assembly District 51 in the October 3 election. Called last week by Governor Brown, it’s a special election to fill the seat of Jimmy Gomez, who recently won a spot in Congress left open by Xavier Becerra when he accepted nomination to be Attorney General. This is the only election for state office this year in California.
With nine candidates announcing in the race, I wanted to see who would be a friendly force for public education and the teachers and professional staff who make our schools work. As a former local union president, I like candidates who have roots in their communities and support the social contract, fair pay for hard work with health and retirement security to build the middle class.
Imagine my surprise to learn that four of the nine candidates for the Assembly seat have moved into the district to run. Wendy Carrillo, who finished a distant sixth for Congress this year when she ran while living elsewhere, has moved into the 51st District to run for the Assembly seat, now that it’s vacant. The same applies to Mike Fong, who moved into Lincoln Heights; Mark Vargas, who moved into Chinatown; and David Vela, who moved into Angeleno Heights.
Many folks refer to candidates like these as carpetbaggers, opportunists who travel looking for an open seat to run for. It’s not a new phenomenon, but it does have consequences. On the upside, it may give a little boost to the rental economy. But the market for affordable housing is already red hot in Los Angeles and far too costly for multi-generational families like mine.
Transplanted candidates send a not-so-subtle message to existing local leaders and the communities they come from: What we have made ourselves just isn’t good enough.[/pullquote]
On the downside, transplanted candidates send a not-so-subtle message to existing local leaders and the communities they come from: What we have made ourselves just isn’t good enough.
As an immigrant, I get that mobility brings opportunity. But chasing open seats is an ugly practice in politics, and it can lead to shoddy representation if those candidates win elections. When transplanted politicians owe more to wealthy outside interests than to local voters, they often end up missing in action on tough issues like school funding and pollution.
The baggage doesn’t end there. In June, I was shocked to see Mike Fong side with longtime loudmouth Scott Svonkin on the L.A. Community College District Board by voting to sideline a resolution citing Svonkin for bullying and harrassing women colleagues on the board. Fong cast the deciding vote to divert the matter into a committee instead of holding Svonkin directly accountable for his actions.
In July, Wendy Carrillo actually told members of Democrats for Neighborhood Action, “Environmental protections cost jobs, and that’s just a reality.” Shame on her for spouting a false and offensive line from the Koch Brothers’ and climate deniers’ playbook. Renewable energy and green jobs abound in L.A. because of the courage of Democrats, not in spite of it.<
And Mark Vargas: Does this transplant into the Eastside believe we haven’t read about his misdeeds on the California Coastal Commission? Last year he voted to fire the trusted director of the commission. He also met with celebrities where he thought he’d escape scrutiny and supported building new mansions on coastal hills. I have to give credit for much of that reporting to Steve Lopez of the L.A. Times.
One of my favorite slogans of the Trump era is from an article I saw in the Washington Post. It says “democracy dies in darkness.” I am thankful for the thousands of Angelenos who are increasing their attention and involvement in local politics so we protect Californians against attacks from Trump. There is no substitute for staying alert. I told my grandkids any number of times that they should not lie or try to sneak things past me. But sometimes they just have to learn the hard way.